In video reminiscent of Rodney King, sheriff’s deputies were taped beating two suspected illegal immigrants with batons Monday after a 70-mile chase.
A Riverside County deputy, holding his baton two-handed like a baseball bat, swung repeatedly at a person prostrate beneath him. A handcuffed woman was slammed against the pickup truck involved in the chase.
About 20 suspected illegal immigrants were packed into the pickup.
The color videotape was shot by two news helicopters overhead.
“It’s another Rodney King,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who immediately called for a Justice Department investigation.
The suspected illegal immigrants are Mexican and the deputies are white, the sheriff’s department said.
The unidentified male driver suffered bruises and a possible fractured elbow from the baton blows, said Sgt. Mark Lohman, spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. He was being treated at a hospital and awaiting booking for evading arrest, throwing objects from a vehicle, and possibly assault or hit and run.
Lohman said the other occupants were uninjured. The group was taken to an Immigration and Naturalization Service center for questioning.
The sheriff’s department immediately launched an internal investigation and placed two deputies on paid administrative leave. The deputies’ names were not released, but the department said one has been on the force for 21 years and the other for five years.
“We’re very embarrassed and we’re seriously concerned about the actions of our officers,” Lohman said.
When asked by reporters if the department felt the two deputies used excessive force, Lohman said: “There was force used.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the amount of force exceeded the department’s “reasonable and necessary” standard, he said. The beating occurred in Los Angeles County.
The chase began when the pickup truck driver refused to stop for Border Patrol officials. They suspected illegal immigrants were aboard because the truck was on a road frequently used to bypass a checkpoint about 60 miles north of the border.
The Border Patrol handed off the chase to the sheriff’s deputies.
The pickup pulled over on Pomona Freeway about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, and people crowded into the bed of the pickup jumped out and ran down a brushy embankment.
The videotape showed a deputy run up seconds later, swing a club at a man beside the cab, then swipe at a woman with a purse.
The man was knocked from a freeway guardrail to the ground. The woman, clutching the purse, was pulled from the cab and over the guardrail. She was pulled to the ground by the hair. Another deputy ran up and swung a baton at her “Absolutely, no question, uncalled-for excessive force,” Ripston said.
Ripston acknowledged that the images recorded from the helicopter were rough, but she said there was no apparent provocation by the suspects.
“It was (video) taken from a helicopter, but it certainly didn’t look like anybody was attempting to hurt an officer,” Ripston said.
In 1991, four white officers were videotaped beating King, a black motorist, at the end of a high-speed chase. The officers’ acquittal on criminal charges prompted widespread riots. Two of the officers later were convicted on federal charges.